Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance, Jr., today announced the sentencing of JOEL GETREU, 57, to 1 ½-to-4 ½ years in state prison for stealing hundreds of thousands of dollars from clients of his personal injury law practice. On October 8, 2015, the defendant pleaded guilty in New York State Supreme Court to Grand Larceny in the Second Degree and Scheme to Defraud in the First Degree.
“Tremendous faith is placed in attorneys to protect their clients’ interests,” said District Attorney Vance. “Joel Getreu pleaded guilty to stealing hundreds of thousands of dollars from disadvantaged and vulnerable individuals, including a 9-year-old girl and an 86-year-old grandmother. No personal injury victim should be made to suffer additional losses in the form of financial theft, and I encourage anyone who believes that he or she may have been the victim of this type of fraud to call my Office’s Financial Frauds Bureau hotline at 212-335-8900.”
As admitted in the defendant’s guilty plea and according to documents filed in court, GETREU, a former attorney, owned a personal injury practice on Nassau Street in Lower Manhattan. Between September 2012 and December 2013, the defendant stole settlement funds from eight clients by withdrawing tens of thousands of dollars from his law firm’s Interest on Lawyer Account (“IOLA”), an interest-bearing account into which funds may be deposited to be held by an attorney in a fiduciary capacity for a client’s benefit. However, instead of providing his clients with the settlement monies awarded to them, GETREU exhausted more than $215,000 in funds that rightfully belonged to the defendant’s clients, whom were never paid.
Those eight clients included an 86-year-old grandmother, a nine-year-old girl, and a 57-year-old woman who was severely debilitated by a fall that exacerbated preexisting spinal damage. In the case of the 57-year-old woman—who planned to use her settlement funds to pay for specialized equipment to support her weakened spine—GETREU never informed the victim that he received her settlement check, even though the money had already been deposited into his IOLA. In under five months, the defendant depleted the funds in the account, using the money to pay for personal expenses.
Between December 2012 and August 2013, GETREU also stole nearly $250,000 belonging to six additional clients by withdrawing funds from the firm’s IOLA. When the account was depleted, the defendant paid those clients with money belonging to other clients and transfers from his operating account.
In August 2014, the Appellate Division, First Department, disbarred GETREU from the practice of law.
Assistant District Attorney Jaime Hickey-Mendoza handled the prosecution of the case, under the supervision of Assistant District Attorneys Gloria Garcia, Deputy Chief of the Financial Frauds Bureau; Archana Rao, Principal Deputy Chief of the Financial Frauds Bureau; Michael Sachs, Chief of the Financial Frauds Bureau; and Executive Assistant District Attorney David Szuchman, Chief of the Investigation Division. Forensic Investigator Elaine Li, Investigative Analyst Lauren Gunther, and Former Paralegal Laura Gronauer provided additional assistance. Detectives Simon Chan and Keith O’Palick of the NYPD Detective Squad assigned to the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office also assisted with the case.
District Attorney Vance thanked the Lawyer’s Fund for Client Protection, and in particular, Executive Director & Counsel Timothy O’Sullivan and Investigator Ray Wood, for their assistance with the investigation and victim reimbursement.
JOEL GETREU, D.O.B 3/26/1958
- Grand Larceny in the Second Degree, a class C felony, 1 count
- Scheme to Defraud in the First Degree, a class E felony, 1 count
- 1 ½-to-4 ½ years in state prison